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JLP Based Documentary Film Opens September 23 in NYC



Opening in Theaters and On Demand Platforms in Fall 2016

Theatrical Debut Appears on Friday, September 23 at the Metrograph in New York City

(NEW YORK, NY – September 7, 2016) – FilmBuff announced today that it has licensed worldwide rights to distribute THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH, the first original production from venerable New York media institution and leading podcast producer WNYC Studios.

FilmBuff will release THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH in select theaters – including the Metrograph in New York City – on Friday, September 23, followed by a digital release on all major On Demand platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Vudu, on Friday, October 7. WNYC’s award-winning radio host and producer and Emmy Award-winning film editor Sara Fishko, the director of the film, will be on hand to do a live Q&A after the evening show at the Metrograph.

The film, a follow-up to Fishko’s Jazz Loft Radio Series, as well as author Sam Stephenson’s book, The Jazz Loft Project, brings hundreds of photographs by acclaimed LIFE Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith to the screen for the first time, as well as some of the 4,000 hours of audio he recorded, The film features commentary by musicians Steve Reich, Carla Bley, Jason Moran, Ronnie Free, and many others on this fascinating chapter in jazz, photography, and New York City history.

In the 1950s, dozens of jazz musicians jammed night after night in a dilapidated New York loft building, not realizing they were all being captured in sound and pictures by Smith, who lived in the loft space next door. Thelonious Monk stopped by to rehearse; drummer Ronnie Free got hooked on hard drugs; Smith began to tape-record his own phone calls; the ‘50s gave way to the ‘60s. In a layering of interviews, vignettes and powerful music, Fishko recreates these stories of the vibrant culture of New York’s mid-century jazz era, resurrecting some of the characters captured in Smith’s evocative photographs.

In tandem with the film’s release, WNYC Studios will make available an updated version of the original award-winning Jazz Loft Radio Series – which takes listeners on a deep-dive into the music, voices, and sound Smith captured on audio tape – as a 10-episode podcast series on, iTunes and other places where podcasts are available.

“Jazz is an integral part of the fabric of New York City culture, so we’re excited to bring THE JAZZ LOFT to audiences in our hometown and beyond,” said FilmBuff’s Jake Hanly. “It’s a fascinating time capsule of an historic moment in our city, and FilmBuff is excited to be partnering with WNYC, a quintessential New York institution, on their first original production.”

“What gets us excited every day is the chance to tell stories that inform while delighting. And we’re always looking for new ways to do that,” said Dean Cappello, Chief Content Officer of WNYC Studios. “THE JAZZ LOFT project started as a radio series that showcased the incredible and unheard Gene Smith recordings. The chance to bring these characters to the screen with FilmBuff in WNYC Studios’ first film feels like the best way to honor these musicians and artists in a way that audiences will love.”

“We’re still not sure exactly what Gene Smith was trying to create in the loft,” said Fishko. “But he did remarkable work there, and his pictures by the tens of thousands and stacks and stacks of audio tape reels tell us things about community, music-making, obsession and art that we couldn’t learn in any other way.”

THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH screened at Cleveland International Film Festival 2016, Full Frame Festival 2016, Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema 2016, International Film Festival Rotterdam 2016, Copenhagen Jazz Film Festival 2016, DOC NYC 2015, and New Orleans Film Festival 2015.

The film was written, produced and directed by Sara Fishko, edited by Jonathan J. Johnson and photographed by Tom Hurwitz, ASC.  Producers include Calvin Skaggs for Lumiere Productions and Sam Stephenson. The deal was negotiated by Jake Hanly of FilmBuff with John Chao of WNYC.

THE JAZZ LOFT ACCORDING TO W. EUGENE SMITH is funded in part by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Reva and David Logan Foundation, Oliver Kramer, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts.

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Behind the Scenes of a Doc Film Based on the Jazz Loft Project

A new documentary film based on The Jazz Loft Project is currently in post-production.  For more information and to see several production stills, go HERE.

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By Harvey Overton

We are proud to present A Death in the Family, a poem about Hall Overton by his younger brother Harvey.  We have two versions here; a video of Harvey reading the poem made by JLP Research Associate Dan Partridge in Chicago in 2002, and the text of the poem below.  Harvey was born in 1921 in Bangor, Michigan, the second of the three Overton sons.  For several decades he taught in the humanities department at Western Michigan University before retiring to Chicago where he still lives today – S.S.

A Death in the Family by Harvey Overton from The Jazz Loft Project on Vimeo.

From Harvey Overton’s volume of poems, Hanging Out in Space – Album in Black and White (1992)

A Death in the Family

Seduced from the detritus of boyhood
by a siren ear,
your untutored hands startled octaves;
your gift enlarged under the masters
of counterpoint,
you set notes for searing strings,
a lapidary engraving chambered sounds.

You also heard another voice who spoke
to you
in hot and cool and blue through keyboard
riffs in clubs of smoke and saxophones,
and there, booting the tempos of your
joie de vivre,
you chimed chords with celebratory horns.

Then in your metered years,
after the accolades, in haste to measure
scores against your measured time,
you waited for your temptresses
to collect their dues.

That night the chain stitch pulled,
unraveling arteries,
that night physicians cried,
and in the waiting room we turned
our faces to the wall to say
too soon, too soon.

* For a video of a JLP program on Overton at NYPL for the Performing Arts last spring, click here.

* For Sara Fishko’s JLP radio series episode on Overton at WNYC, click here.

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IN MY MIND – The Long Road to a New, Exciting JLP Outcome

On September 7, 2006 I drove to Guglhupf Bakery and Café in Durham for lunch with the new director of Duke Performances, Aaron Greenwald.  We had never met.  Little did we know how much the work of Duke Performances and the Jazz Loft Project and the Center for Documentary Studies would come to overlap.  This week, more than three and a half years later, the latest product of the collaboration, a beautiful film called IN MY MIND by CDS filmmakers Gary Hawkins and Emily LaDue, will be unveiled in Durham at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (see poster by CDS designer Bonnie Campbell below).  It is an outcome of JLP that we never could have expected, or produced ourselves, and therefore it feels like a unique and meaningful milestone for everyone involved.  Here’s a look back at the meandering path:

As Aaron and I munched sandwiches at Guglhupf that day, he described his ambitions to present a series of concerts in the fall of 2007 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Thelonious Monk’s birth in Rocky Mount, N.C. about ninety miles from Durham.  His vision was that Duke Performances could do more to connect with the fertile region from which Duke University’s vast endowment had grown, literally; the Duke family fortune originated in the tobacco fields.  Aaron knew that I had studied Monk as part of the JLP.  He didn’t know that I grew up in “little” Washington in North Carolina’s coastal plains and I felt a kinship with Monk, valid or not, based on our shared soil (not just the birth home but the Monk ancestral home in nearby Newton Grove) and Monk’s heavy southern accent which can be heard clearly on Smith’s tapes.  Over the following fourteen months my Jazz Loft colleagues Dan Partridge, Sarah Moye, and I worked with Aaron and his staff on a near daily basis.

In September and October of 2007 Duke Performances presented Following Monk, a stunning series of eighteen events including the likes of the Kronos Quartet, Jason Moran, Charles Tolliver, Charlie Haden and Hank Jones, Randy Weston, Kenny Barron, Andy Bey, Henry Butler, Jessica Williams, Jerry Gonzales, Johnny Griffin, Barry Harris, Paul Jeffrey, Alonzo King’s LINES ballet, writers Stanley Crouch and Robin D.G. Kelley, and more.  CDS and the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz were co-sponsors of the series.  A number of Monk’s relatives from eastern North Carolina attended the shows.

Following Monk Sticker_web

During Following Monk CDS radio documentarian John Biewen created an NPR segment which was aired nationally on Monk’s birthday, “Digging Up Thelonious Monk’s Southern Roots,” featuring Monk’s son, T.S. Monk.  I wrote a cover story for the Oxford American’s annual music issue, “Is this Home?” concerning Monk’s return to North Carolina in May of 1970 to play for two weeks at Raleigh’s legendary Frog & Nightgown club.  Following Monk was covered by all the mainstream and alternative media outlets in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area.  Monk was in the air.  It felt like a significant achievement.

The cornerstones of Following Monk were two shows paying homage to Monk’s historic Town Hall concert from February 27, 1959, the first time Monk had performed his music with a big band.  The tentet arrangements were conceived and rehearsed by Monk and Hall Overton on the fourth floor of 821 Sixth Avenue, a diligent process that was documented by W. Eugene Smith in photographs and tapes.  In one Following Monk show trumpeter Charles Tolliver led his tentet through a powerful, near note-for-note re-performance of Monk’s original concert.  In the second, Jason Moran and his Big Bandwagon, an octet, created a seminal 75-minute piece called IN MY MIND.  The mixed media piece went back-and-forth in time, making explicit use of Smith’s photographs and tapes from Monk’s rehearsals, while evoking the Monk family’s Newton Grove homeland and blending elements of Jason’s own autobiography.

Moran’s connection to Jazz Loft in the first place was serendipity.  Let me backtrack.  In March of 2005 New York Times writer Ben Ratliff visited CDS for three days researching the first major story on the JLP.  Then, in the fall of 2006, not long after Aaron and I had lunch at Guglhupf, Ratliff interviewed Jason Moran on-stage at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Jason talked a lot about Monk and he mentioned a gig in San Francisco for SFJAZZ in mid-2007 in which he would lead a tentet, with T.S. Monk on drums, performing new, yet-to-be-written transcriptions of Monk’s original Town Hall arrangements.  After the program Ratliff asked Jason, have you ever heard about the Jazz Loft Project and Eugene Smith’s documentation of Monk’s Town Hall rehearsals?  Jason answered no, but left intrigued.  I got my first email inquiry from him in November 2006.  Over the next eleven months Jason visited CDS and Duke many times.  We made a pilgrimage to Newton Grove with Jason’s videographer, visiting Monk’s Crossroads and the Monk Plantation, the grave of Monk’s father’s brother, John Jack Monk, who never left Newton Grove and lived to be 102 (outliving his nephew Thelonious) and we ate barbecue at Eddie’s Cafe.  Jason also sent the expert transcriber David Weiss to CDS for several painstaking days in our offices transcribing Monk’s Town Hall rehearsals from Smith’s tapes into charts for Jason’s band to play.  The resulting IN MY MIND premiered in October 2007 as part of Following Monk. It was co-commissioned by partners Aaron lined up, SFJazz, Chicago Symphony Center, and the Washington (D.C.) Performing Arts Society and it traveled to those cities.

The success of Following Monk led Duke’s President Richard Brodhead and Provost Peter Lange to boldly support a risky new project in New York City February 26-27, 2009, a presentation of Tolliver’s tentet concert and Moran’s IN MY MIND at Town Hall to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Monk’s original concert in that space.  By this time, Lauren Hart had joined me and Dan Partridge on JLP staff and we did everything we could to help Aaron and his staff.  At times it felt perilous, like a potential disaster, mostly for reasons out of our control.  I think Aaron felt like his job could be on the line.  People told us we were naive not to have somebody like Denzel Washington or Clint Eastwood introduce the concerts.  Nobody would show up without the celebrities.  (Three months before our Town Hall shows I gave pre-concert talks before three nights of Monk shows at Jazz at Lincoln Center and TV stars Soledad O’Brien and Courtney B. Vance introduced and narrated the three concerts).  But Aaron resisted.  With Duke’s support, he put the music on a pedestal and the ticket prices were held at relative low levels.  The Hall was about two-third’s full both nights and it felt raw and energized, not a refined culture-night-out.  Tolliver’s concert was broadcast live by WNYC: New York Public Radio, our collaborator on the Jazz Loft Project Radio Series, and I joined their “Evening Music” host Terrance McKnight in the broadcast booth.  More than thirty Monk relatives chartered a bus from the New Haven, CT area to Town Hall for IN MY MIND. The concerts were received well by the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times twice here and here,, and New York magazine, among others.  Some of the informal feedback from pros and purists in attendance heartened us the most.

With support from CDS director Tom Rankin and associate directors Greg Britz and Lynn McKnight, CDS film director Gary Hawkins and producer Emily LaDue videotaped the Town Hall performance of IN MY MIND with seven cameras operated by students from their advanced video course along with cinematographer Steve Milligan.  After a year of intensive editing by Hawkins and LaDue, the highly anticipated results will be unveiled at the Full Frame Documentary Film festival later this week, on Friday night at 10:30pm.  We’ve seen early cuts.  Gary and Emily have created a vital piece of work, weaving poignant interviews with Jason and his band into the concert footage.  It achieves a difficult double entendre:  It pays homage to history while rendering fresh, new expressions, making it a tremendous example of documentary art.  I don’t know of anything like it among jazz films of recent times.  It transcends jazz and will be engaging to people who know little about jazz.  Gary and Jason Moran will do Q&A after the screening.

IN MY MIND will have its New York premier at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center on April 19.  Jason and Gary will do Q&A after this screening, too.

Looking back over the twelve year history of the Jazz Loft Project (eight years full-time), IN MY MIND is an outcome with so many integral roles.  That kind of teamwork makes it all the more meaningful.

-Sam Stephenson


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Jazz Loft Exhibition Video by Courtney Reid-Eaton

The Jazz Loft Project exhibition opened at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center three weeks ago.  Estimates are that 500 to 700 people attending the opening.

CDS Exhibitions Director Courtney Reid-Eaton traveled to New York (her home town) more than two weeks before the opening to install the show.  She worked with LPA’s staff, led by Curator of Exhibitions Barbara Cohen-Stratyner and including Rene Ronda, Herbert Ruiz, Mike Diekmann, Laura Clifford, and Caitlin Mack.

Courtney documented the installation process on video, which she has edited into the following 8-minute sequence.  It provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the painstaking world required to mount a show.  The dimensions of every object are accounted for in regard to every inch of the space.  There is selflessness to hanging exhibitions; the curators disappear and the artwork takes over.  Courtney achieved this beautifully.  She makes Jazz Loft Project staff (Dan Partridge, Lauren Hart, and me) and CDS look good.  Gene Smith would be proud, too.

- Sam Stephenson

The Jazz Loft Project Exhibition Installation to Opening at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts from The Jazz Loft Project on Vimeo.

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Watch The Jazz Loft Project Exhibition Trailer

The Jazz Loft Project Exhibition opens February 17 at the New York Public Library for Performing Arts.

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“The Parade” by Loft Drummer Ron Free

By the time I was eight years old, I already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wanted to be a jazz drummer.  Go figure.

How does one account for such a peculiar “calling?”  Well, for starters, I suppose it helps to have a father who is a jazz buff and owns many 78 rpm recordings of the Norman Granz Jazz at the Philharmonic series featuring the likes of Roy Eldridge, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Lester Young, and many other giants of the day.  And to top it all off, there were the famous drum battles between Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa.  I was hooked, especially when I discovered that I shared the same birthday with Krupa, January 15th (one that we now have in common with Martin Luther King, and that everyone enjoys as a national holiday.  More about MLK in a future blog). Surely my destiny was in the stars!

My father also took me to hear live music whenever possible, especially the big bands when they came through my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina.   I remember standing ringside to catch Louis Bellson and his revolutionary  two-bass drums with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Buddy Rich with the Harry James Band, and, when I was 12 or so, Gene Krupa himself brought his big band to town.  And he actually let a very scared and awed little boy sit in with the band to the cheers of a huge home town crowd. Talk about a first class gentleman; Krupa broke the mold.

But prior to all of that, my first recollection of really being smitten with the drum bug is graphically portrayed in a poem I wrote a few years ago. Sam and Dan suggested I include it on the Jazz Loft Project Blog, and I’m delighted to do so.  It’s a just a simple little child’s poem, really, and I cried tears of joy when it first came through me. It arrived almost in its entirety with very little tweaking required. Hope you enjoy.

The Parade

The crowd, the clowns, the straining to see
Over shoulders of people much taller than me,
When suddenly in the distance I hear
The sound of the drums drawing near.

Then add a few trumpets and other brass horns,
The floats, the horses and pink unicorns.
I’m six years old and do not expect
To feel hair standing up on the back of my neck.

Louder and louder the sound of the drums
As something wondrous this way comes.
Along with the drums my heart is beating
Over and over the cadence repeating.

Parump-ta-tum-tum, parump-ta-tum-tum,
How compelling, how thrilling the sound of the drum.
Goose bumps crawling all over my skin,
Street beats repeating again and again.

I push through to the front so that I might see
This wonder of wonders so inspiring to me.
Girls with batons flying high in the air,
Other little children are standing near.

All looking and listening to the music coming,
The sound of the brass and the drummers drumming.
Many years have passed since that day,
My eye has grown dim, my hair turned gray.

Yet how vividly I still can recall
The sight, sound, taste and scent of it all.
And to this day there’s been no greater joy
Than the sound of the drum to that one small boy.

–Ron Free

The Parade from The Jazz Loft Project on Vimeo.

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Sam Stephenson discusses his new book, The Jazz Loft Project, at 821 Sixth Avenue

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